Today would have been my nephew’s 34th birthday. Had he lived.
Of course, five years ago, I didn’t know that when I called to wish him a happy birthday. He was struggling to talk to me; his wife using all of his names to let him know she wasn’t happy he was on the phone. He finally went outside when the refrains of “Thomas Wayne Van Blaricum Junior, you have things to do!” got too loud. It was a short conversation with me intoning that things would get better. Of course, there was no time to talk about how bad things really were. There were kids, the wife, dogs, pride and discomfort in the way.
Two weeks later I had a birthday card from him, but really Shannon, his wife. He knew I wanted 40 cards for my 40th birthday. There were already family issues about this. I don’t know why such a simple request set people off, causing internal family strife. I think he had to call me, because, I didn’t have his number. Again, the chaos in the background was awful. Once again, he headed outside. It was hard to hear him. I told him I’d call in a couple of weeks. I forgot to get his number programmed into my cell phone.
The day he died, I was at school conducting spring conferences. I’d gone to lunch and discussed how concerned I was about him. He was so young and had so very many problems. I didn’t know the full extent, but we’d sent money hoping it would help. I had no clue that it was probably just a drop in the bucket. How could I? So far away, so much tension, so many people yelling, everyone an expert, yet no one knowing. I had wanted to call, but realized I didn’t have his phone number. I’d call after work.
Around 3:30 or 4, I received a call from my friend, Cassie. “Call your mom right NOW!” she demanded. “She’s been trying to get a hold of you for an hour.” She wouldn’t even answer my questions. When I called, Mom was just crying repeating over and over, “He’s gone. My baby is gone.” When she finally got it out that he was dead, I assumed an accident. He drove truck and we’d discussed the dangers, especially in snow and ice.
No. It was self-inflicted. About the time I was talking about him and had wanted to call. Remember, we can only connect the dots backwards. I cried in a way that I’d never cried before. Carol could hear me through the wall. She didn’t know it was me until I ran over. I cried myself out that night, so I could fly to Iowa and be done.
It’s been five years. I’d like to say we learned a lot about being a family, about being loving, about accepting each other. Only, we haven’t. We still are all odd angles. We haven’t learned to soften the edges and fit within each other. We just keep saying, it’s been five years. Time apparently doesn’t heal all wounds — especially those you pick at.
Today he would have been 34. I wonder what his life would have been like had he lived. We’ll never know, but I can only hope his soul is at peace, and that he found the release he obviously desired.